This is part two of a series that is an effort to help military families. Here are a few questions from readers. What are some of YOUR questions? Be sure to pass this link along to your military friends!
Q. Ellie, you came to our Army base to speak last November and I think that your message really helped me get through my husband’s deployment. Thank you for the work you are doing with military families. I did have a question about ordering items online. You showed us how to pay 40% less by using some websites, but how do I know if the website is legitimate?
–Steph from Rothenburg, Germany, Submitted via online contact form
ELLIE: Steph, thanks for writing and thank you for what you do as a military family member, I admire you so much and know it’s a hard job! To avoid getting scammed online, make sure that you never respond to an email inquiry, but you find the site yourself on your own search. Then, go to BBB.org to make sure they aren’t listed and also check out the FTC.gov, plus the Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov, to investigate complaints against the company.
Q. I’m 19 and have been a soldier for 18 months. There are quite a few of my friends who regularly go to the payday loan business that is right outside our base. I keep telling them that they are losing a lot of money by getting a pay advance, but they say the interest rates are low and it’s no big deal. What do you think?
–“Private Benjamin” from Ft Bragg, Submitted via Facebook
ELLIE: Private Benjamin, thx for your service and you’re the smart one. Tell your friends that some of these payday loan companies are charging as much as 500% interest. Even though the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 put a cap of 36% on interest loans to military members, many of these companies skirt the law by added exorbitant fees and calling the loans “revolving lines of credit” instead of payday loans in order to bypass the law.
Q. My husband’s hazardous duty pay was backlogged by red tape and didn’t arrive early enough for us to pay our bills. How am I supposed to pay things like our car loans while he is in the Middle East if I shouldn’t go a payday loan center?
–Justine Long, Fort Drum, NY, Submitted via Facebook
ELLIE: In situations like yours, there are resources as near as your Army Community Services center where they can offer free financial advice. In extenuating circumstances, such as yours, you might even qualify for special programs offered by the Army’s charity, Army Emergency Relief or the AER. By going to these legitimate resources, you can avoid getting ripped off.
Q. Our community here in Alamogordo, NM is very supportive of the military and so is Las Cruces, which is a little further down the road. Many businesses carry banners that say, “we support our military.” Even so, a friend of ours bought a car from one of these places and it turns out that the dealership didn’t own the title and then went out of business. Now our friend has an $12,000 loan to pay and no car to show for it! How can we avoid being “taken” and who can we trust?
–Heidi Rothenburg, Holloman Air Force Base, Submitted via blog
ELLIE: Heidi, I’m so sorry to hear of that situation, especially from a business that advertises its support of the military. Unfortunately, auto vendors are a huge source of complaints. In most cases, the salesperson will offer you “easy credit” but you pay jacked up prices, hidden fees and interest rates of 15% to 20%. Military financial counselors have files full of horror stories. Bad dealers have taken cars in trade, promising to pay them off and then they go out of business, leaving service members with two payments. Go to BBB certified dealers and if the deal sounds too good to be true, just walk away, because it usually is. Or go to your base’s ACS, Airman & Family Readiness Center or Fleet and Family Support Center for local financial counseling.
Q. My daughter just got commissioned with the Marine Corps and I’m concerned about the possibility of someone taking advantage of her financially. Are military members bigger targets for fraud than civilians?
–Sue Simpson, Stillwater, OK
ELLIE: Military members have guaranteed paychecks and won’t ever get laid off. This makes them good credit risks. But it also makes them targets. Some people see the military as cash cows and they want to get their cut. One of the greatest evidence of this fact is that outside of any large military installation, you’ll see businesses that offer payday loans, pawn shops, and check cashers. These are the kinds of businesses that prey on unsuspecting military.
Thank you to those who serve!
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)